Interview with actor / filmmaker Arka Das about film, TV & lamb!

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Q.1. How did you get started in the film & TV industry and what motivated you to get into the industry?

I actually got started in theatre, it was definitely my launching pad for film & TV. My high school drama teacher was a big ambassador and I went on to do lots of small independent plays during high school and my time at university, whilst also managing classes, part time work, rehearsals and performances at night which was a crazy time. In late 2009 I got a role in a great independent show at the Griffin Theatre called ‘References to Salvador Dali, Make Me Hot!’ directed by Anthony Skuse, which led to me signing with my agents and starting to audition for film & T.V. work.

I think my motivation came from a few different sources but mainly from an intrinsic place to want to perform. As a kid I wanted to be a wrestler and used to pretend to be like The Rock (I can still do ‘the people’s eyebrow’) but growing up, I started to notice a big hole in the industry for actors that looked like me. On the flip side, however, I would also have to say, seeing international actors of colour on film and television motivated me in ways I couldn’t probably fathom at the time. In particular, I remember being a teenager and seeing a young Indian actor, Nicholas Brown as a lead on an Australian network show which filled me with a lot of hope. Funnily enough, I went on to meet Nick years later and we are now good friends and have worked on several projects together.

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Q.2. One of the best commercials on TV at the moment is the ad you appear in for lamb, taking a playful approach to Australian screen diversity,  ‘You Never Lamb Alone’ campaign – one thing that claims to unite us all: Lamb. Would you say this is a brave and great step forward for television diversity and the direction in which all TVCs and TV should take?

I definitely think it’s a huge step forward, even outside of the diversity talks it is a very inclusive ad and ultimately I feel that’s what a lot of us (diverse actors) are fighting for – recognition and inclusivity. I think it is also proving that a progressive idea and a bit of clever writing can be very commercially successful. If commercial viability is still a doubt in people’s minds when it comes to diversity, especially producers, networks, and funding bodies, then I hope this ad is a benchmark and a turning point to clearly prove otherwise.

Q.3. What is the best acting role you’ve had thus far and why?

I’m generally bad at picking just ‘one’ thing because I’m really indecisive. I’ve been lucky enough to work on some outstanding projects so far including acting alongside Dev Patel and Rooney Mara in upcoming film ‘Lion’ and working with the incomparable Jane Campion on ‘Top Of the Lake – Season 2’ earlier this year. However, I think I would have to take it right back to my role in a play called ‘Animals Out of Paper’ at the Ensemble Theatre in 2010. I got to play the role of ‘Suresh’ a young origami genius in New York City learning to cope with his talent, managing his family and the death of his mother. The writing by Rajiv Joseph is nuanced, contemporary and funny and It really made me push myself at a time when I was young and a little naive. I loved playing that role every night of the season.

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Q.4. What direction would you like to see Australian TV and Film go towards (in terms of diversity)? 

There is so much quality in Australian film and television on so many levels, from production crews to directors to actors. However when it comes to seeing true representation on our screens and fostering our diverse actors in this country I would have to say the Australian industry is embarrassingly behind. It truly can feel like no matter how much work you do here as an actor of colour, you won’t get the type of recognition which could help boost your career to an international level or open doors to a myriad of roles locally similar to the likes of so many working Anglo/ Caucasian Australian actors.

I would love to see more diverse writing rooms, open casting choices and producers and networks in general move towards an industry where representation on screen is real, our stories are diverse, interesting and our content accurately portrays what Australia actually looks like today.

Q.5. What would your dream role be?

That’s a tough one! Again I’m going to struggle to choose one thing but I have just finished watching the first series of an amazing HBO series called ‘The Night Of’ a gripping crime thriller which stars Riz Ahmed in a strong lead role – so maybe something like that? Or a lead in a great comedy series or a Martin Scorcese film or something, I can’t decide!

Q.5. Do you think Australian TV, Film & stage has changed since you started and why?

Yes definitely, and constantly changing I would say. Now with so many funding bodies like Screen Australia and Screen NSW introducing great initiatives like ‘Gender Matters’ and also the recent statistics from the Screen Australia study being released about representation on TV, I think TV is definitely evolving. In regards to film, I feel it is changing too, there has been a bunch of of great co-productions and diverse Australian films made lately and I’ve been lucky to work on a few of them, like ‘UnIndian’ – a cross-cultural Australian rom-com with a great local cast which has been released in India and globally. Also two other films ‘Lion’ and ‘Joe Cinque’s Consolation’ that I got to be a part of, both screening at Toronto International Film Festival this year. 

Q.6. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

Maybe as successful as The Rock? Haha I don’t know that’s such a scary question, hopefully working a lot both in Australia & the U.S.

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